One senior mechanical engineering student experienced racism firsthand when he first moved to America.
Saad Ilyas moved to the United States when he was 15 years old in 2009. After his older brother graduated from high school in Pakistan, his family made the decision to move to America in order for Ilyas and his brother to go to a university here and get a better education than what they would have gotten in Pakistan.
Ilyas came to America and jumped right into his sophomore year of high school. He attended a school that was predominantly white with very few minorities. As many would assume, Ilyas was targeted with many racial slurs and jokes especially in his first few years in high school. These racist jokes were especially prevalent after Osama Bin Laden was apprehended and killed in Pakistan. Ilyas remarks on how his peers would call him out for his nationality, insinuating that he knew Osama Bin Laden for the mere fact that he lived in the same country.
In the face of all this racism in his first few years living in the US. “I moved through it [the racism],” he said. “I wasn’t going to let other people call me something and [do nothing]… basically I stood up for myself”. Ilyas added that the way he stood up for himself was by defending himself and his identity as being Muslim with facts rather than using fear to combat what his peers were saying.
“My body was conditioned,” Ilyas said. “So I didn’t take [the racist comments] very seriously. I would just laugh it off or get away from the situation so I wouldn’t have to respond or be aggressive because that would just trickle down into something bigger.”
After coming to URI, Ilyas experienced a much more different atmosphere. “There are more people aware of what is going on around the world,” Ilyas said. “In high school people are not aware and that’s why they have biases of other people who are not of the same background.” Ilyas stressed the point of ignorance. He sees that at URI people are a lot less ignorant of the world around them than his peers were in high school, probably due to their observations of the world around them.
When asked about the major differences between Pakistan and the United States, Ilyas spoke of a couple of the more obvious things. “People drive on the right in America,” he said. “People spoke a different language.”
He also discussed the differences between the two countries with the way families and neighborhoods are set up. “Pakistan is very family-oriented,” Ilyas said. “In a neighborhood
everybody knows each other. In America there’s more stress on privacy… In Pakistan you would know all your neighbors and their families. It’s just a common thing.”
Though Ilyas’s move to America may have been different than other Muslims since he had visited the country before, he still faced many of the racial problems that are most prevalent in this country. He had to “condition” himself just so he wouldn’t do something rash in the face of all the discriminating and rude comments he was faced with. But throughout it all, he is still moving forward through his life and sees a bright future before him after he graduates from URI this May.